Harrington wants to spoil Phil and Tiger show

Forgotten man Padraig Harrington believes he is capable of pulling out a giant-killing performance to deny Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson more Masters glory at Augusta.

The Dubliner has been flying under the radar since he won the Open and the US PGA back-to-back last summer.

And with Woods and Mickelson grabbing all the attention in the build-up, fast-finisher Harrington believes he’s perfectly poised to come up on the rails and snatch the third leg of the Paddy Slam and become the first Irishman to pull on the famous green jacket.

Sensational back nines at Royal Birkdale and Oakland Hills last year proved that he has the right stuff when the heat is on in major and if he plays the way he knows he can, not even Woods or Mickelson will be able to stop him.

Relishing the prospect of a clash with the game’s Big Two down the stretch, Harrington said: “As a kid you dream about going up against the giants of the game and overcoming it. I wouldn’t be a bit comfortable but I’d be loving it.

“I’d be as nervous as hell coming down the stretch at Augusta. The shots you have to hit there are so intimidating, so precise. I’d be panicking big time. But I’d also be relishing the idea.”

While he has three of the last six majors to his name, Harrington is only an 18/1 chance behind 2/1 favourite Woods and 8/1 fancy Mickelson to capture his fourth Grand Slam title tomorrow week.

But he’d prefer to take his chances against the men with 17 Major wins between them - 14 for Tiger and three for Mickelson - than a back nine showdown against a lesser known player.

He said: “It would be a lot easier to come down the stretch against Tiger and Phil that it would be to come down the stretch against one of them. If I came down the stretch against Tiger and Phil, I know I could be the forgotten man and just play my game.

“If I came down against one of them it is a a different story. I’d be fearful, full stop, being in that situation. I would be nervous but I would also be loving the idea of it.

“And I would probably relish the chance of going up against Phil and Tiger more so than against anybody else in the sense that if I was going up against somebody I should beat the pressure is on me.

“If I am going up against Tiger and Phil then the pressure is on them because the expectation is that they should do the job or whatever.

“The key for me is to play the first 63 holes so that I am coming against somebody to win the tournament in the last nine holes and I am not sitting in the clubhouse, just watching the leaderboard to see how the tournament in going.”

The mental game has been the key to Harrington’s success in the Majors over the last three years.

And that’s all thanks to his 12-year relation mental coach Dr Bob Rotella, who believes that a smiling Harrington is the most dangerous sight in golf.

Rotella said: “He's in his best state of mind when he's smiling and enjoying himself and accepting what happens out there. That’s what we’re working on.”

It’s a relationship that makes Harrington a fearsome opponent and the Dubliner describes Rotella’s contribution to his make up as priceless.

Harrington said: “I could never repay that man what I owe him, that's for sure.”

And that’s why the mental game will play such a massive role in deciding Harrington’s fate next week.

Fear is still the emotion that drives Harrington in the Majors and he will be more worried about keeping his own emotions in check than worrying about what his rivals are doing.

Asked if there was anybody he was still scared of or intimidated by in a major, Harrington smiled and said: “Yes. Me. I am very afraid of myself and that’s who I have to look after. I have enough fear going through my own head to manage without worrying about the other side and I think that’s why I have done well in the three wins I have had.

“It is because I am so concerned about managing my own emotions and my own fears that it has kept me busy and stopped me watching and getting distracted. I think would be more the situation coming down the stretch I think the hardest thing coming down the stretch - and thankfully I did it nicely at Birkdale - the hardest thing is coming down the stretch when you should win.

“Because when you should win obviously the pressure is on you. When you come down the stretch when it is 50-50 or you are the slight underdog, it is a lot easier to be a lot freer about what you are doing because you don’t fear losing quite as much. So coming down the stretch against somebody who hasn’t won before, let’s say, that would be a situation where I am expected to go and do the job and maybe that would make it a little bit tougher.”

But there are no magic formulas that Harrington can take to make himself mentally invincible at Augusta. It’s all down to the hard work he has done since he hooked up with Rotella in 1997 and making sure he is disciplined about his preparation.

Harrington explained: “That’s the great thing about Bob Rotella. Everything I work on with Bob between now and the Masters are the same things I have worked on with him for the last ten years and it is the same thing that is written in his books.  There is no secret, unfortunately. There is no magic pill that you can take that sorts it all out.

“I think what I have done for the last three years has served me well. I have got into contention in greater than 50 percent of the Majors I have played in that time and won three of them.

“I know what I want to do and it is question of doing it. And that’s always the hard thing. I am comfortable that I have got to get on top of things now, be disciplined and get it right in the lead up for Augusta so it will be right when I am there.”